By Shaddi Abusaid
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
COBB COUNTY — A Cobb County officer who fatally shot a 17-year-old following a police chase last summer will not face criminal charges, officials said Thursday.
The case was presented to a grand jury Thursday morning, Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady told reporters. After deliberating for nearly eight hours, the grand jury decided that Officer Max H. Karneol was within his rights to use deadly force when he killed Vincent Truitt.
During a news conference held Thursday evening, Cobb prosecutors showed a combination of surveillance, body camera and dash camera footage from the moments leading up to, and including, Truitt’s shooting. It was the first time the video had been made public.
Following the July 13 police chase, the Atlanta teen jumped out of a stolen Nissan Altima behind a warehouse on Riverside Parkway and appeared to be running away from Karneol when was shot. A still from the officer’s body camera footage appears to a show a gun in Truitt’s hand.
Karneol didn’t appear to give any commands or instruct the teen to drop the weapon before opening fire, but Broady said the officer wasn’t required to based on his training.
“Each of our police agencies has a (standard operating procedure) for their use of force,” Broady said. “Just following the law … it says that if an officer is chasing a felon who has a weapon — who can pose a danger to the others — he has the ability to fire, to use deadly force.
“In this case, the officer followed his SOP to the letter and also followed the law,” Broady said.
In the foyer of the Cobb County Courthouse, Truitt’s family seethed.
“There is no justice in Cobb County,” attorney Gerald Griggs said. “A man was shot in his back as he was running away from law enforcement. He posed no threat, and he was shot in the back and killed.”
Griggs and fellow family attorney Jackie Patterson had implored county officials to release the videotape of the shooting while pushing the DA’s office to bring murder charges against the officer.
Broady said as far as his office is concerned, the case is closed. He also confirmed that no criminal charges were ever presented to the grand jury. He said they were shown video and given the “facts” of the case, but left to decide for themselves whether any charges should be brought against the officer.
“If that would have been the case, we would have drawn a presentment to ask for charges,” Broady said, adding that he has made it his policy to bring all police shootings before grand juries and let them make the decision.
Truitt was shot twice in the back after exiting the car following a chase near Austell. He was one of three teens inside the vehicle that was spotted by police about 11:20 p.m. According to Cobb’s Deputy Chief ADA Jason Saliba, the car Truitt was riding in had been reported stolen nearly 24 hours earlier in Atlanta. The chase began when a license plate reader noticed the car’s tag and alerted officers, he said.
Dash camera footage shows an officer follow the vehicle into a QuikTrip parking lot. A police cruiser rams the Altima once, but the car was able to pull back onto the road, taking out a yield sign in the process.
After a brief chase, the car is surrounded. Truitt, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, can be seen exiting out the driver’s-side door just before the shooting.
Prosecutors did not show footage of what happened in the minutes after the teen’s shooting, but Saliba said police rendered aid “almost immediately.” Broady also confirmed what Truitt’s family has been saying for months, that the teen looked up at the officer and asked him, “Why did you shoot me?”
Truitt died the following day at Grady Memorial Hospital.
In the months since, the teen’s family met with Cobb’s top prosecutors twice — once in November with former DA Joyette Holmes and again last month with Broady. They were allowed to watch the footage during their meeting last fall and were hopeful Broady would release a copy of the recording after taking office at the start of the year. They were also hopeful that he would bring possible murder charges before the grand jury, but that didn’t happen.
“As an African American, you hate to see any African American shot down,” Broady said. “But the fact is that we have to follow the law, and the law says the officer was within his rights.”
He also said members of the community upset by the decision shouldn’t “let emotions dictate how we see things.”
“We have to look at the facts,” he said. “My job as a district attorney is to make sure that I look out for everybody, not just the victims but also the offenders to make sure that they get a fair hearing based on the evidence. And that’s what we did today.”
Outside the courtroom, Griggs said he was disappointed the grand jury was asked to make a recommendation in the case rather than being presented with actual charges. He also said it was the first time Karneol’s name was released since the shooting.
He said Truitt’s family was upset by the decision and vowed they would continue their efforts to hold the officer accountable.
Cobb police Chief Tim Cox also spoke about the case Thursday night, describing the events leading up to the shooting.
“I recognize that the loss of life is tragic,” Cox said. “I cannot imagine the pain that the Truitt family has endured during this time. I pray for that family every day.
“I also recognize the stress that any officer goes through when they have to use any use of force. I pray for that officer and his family every day, too.”
Cox said the officer who fired the fatal shots was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, but has returned to duty.
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